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NBA ICYMI: The Cavs Get a Jump-Start From a New Starter

Larry Nance Jr. has a career night as Ty Lue’s lineup changes pay dividends. Plus, the Bulls’ tank job is producing some beautiful lowlights, the Pacers and Bucks turn in some playoff-worthy basketball, and everything else you may have missed from Monday night’s action.

LeBron James and Larry Nance Jr. high five David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Monday’s slate.

Larry Nance Jr. for Best Supporting Actor

It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to gaze upon the Cavaliers as currently constituted and realize that LeBron needs help. More specifically, that he’s needed a second option all season. Dwyane Wade was never going to be that. Isaiah Thomas wasn’t that. And Kevin Love is currently sporting Banana Republic on the sidelines with a hand injury, while Tristan Thompson will be out for two weeks with an ankle injury. Enter Larry Nance Jr., whose introductory performance after being named the starter “for a while” by Ty Lue filled a proper highlight reel and helped the Cavs beat the Pistons, 112-90.

Nance played the most minutes of any Cav. By halftime, he had posted 18 points and 10 rebounds and thrown down five dunks. (He finished with a career-high 22 points and 15 rebounds.) His defensive effort was equally impactful, prompting the Cavs color announcer to wonder aloud how many Nances were out there at one point. I counted one; he was just huge.

The 25-year-old who wears his dad’s no. 22 has an elastic wingspan and a trampoline-like springiness that’s contagious. (By the break, I wanted to drop my laptop and test out my vertical. It wouldn’t have been pretty.) It was like LeBron felt it, too. In the second half, LeBron came out firing and made three 3s in the third; he totaled an effortless 31 points and provided more eye-test proof backing up the numbers that say the Cavs are far better with him and Nance on the court together.

Cleveland was 2-4 since the All-Star break and somehow only three and a half games ahead of the 8-seed in the East before beating Detroit. The “fixing” that was supposed to have happened at the trade deadline had been looking more like a temporary Band-Aid that had started to come off. On Monday night, Nance used his right dunking hand to patch it back on.

The Pistons Are Reeling

Here’s a synopsis of the Pistons’ 2018: They went 3-11 in January, then traded for Blake Griffin and won four games in a row. They lost six of their next seven. Now, they’re on a three-game losing streak and have lost nine of their past 11. Detroit is five full games out of the final playoff spot in the East, held by Miami, who beat the Suns 125-103 on Monday. Detroit is winless in games with Griffin against teams not on a back-to-back, as John Schuhmann of has pointed out. Hindsight is 20/20, but the midseason gamble is not paying out for Stan Van Gundy and will look even more disastrous if the Pistons miss the playoffs.

A Taste of the Playoffs in Indy

The Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indiana feels like a fitting stage to bless us with a playoff appetizer, and that’s exactly what the Pacers and Bucks cooked up on Monday night in a game that had a little bit of everything.

There was Victor Oladipo with some finesse:

Jason Terry and Lance Stephenson gave us their version of a veteran Grudge Match.

And Bojan Bogdanovic dropped a casual 29 points as the Indy crowd treated him like he was born and bred in the Hoosier State.

The Pacers led by 15 at one point, but the Bucks cut it to a point with a minute left. Giannis Antetokounmpo then missed a free throw and a midrange shot while Khris Middleton turned the ball over, and it came down to a frenzied jump ball. Bogdanovic corralled it and sank the two free throws. Giannis missed another shot—this time, a 3 at the buzzer—in front of the Pacers bench to fall just short, and then got the goodbye treatment from Stephenson:

With the 92-89 win, Indiana is now the 4-seed in the East. I repeat, Indiana is the 4-seed in the East. Somewhere, Kevin Pritchard cackles.

The Dunk of Justise

Your Nightly Wild, Wild West Update

The West is a mess where every game matters for playoff position and contention. I love it, so I’ll be tracking the movement like a college football fan tracking flights in and out of Tuscaloosa during coaching carousel season.

Monday was a near-disaster for the Spurs, who entered the night only a game and a half up on the 9-seed. They faced Memphis, which stuck with them and led for most of the game until the fourth quarter, when Tony Parker did his best aged-wine impression and helped San Antonio to a fourth-quarter comeback and a—phew—100-98 win to put them back in a tie for the 4-seed with the Pelicans and the Wolves.

Meanwhile, the Jazz’s 94-80 win over the Magic led by Rudy Gobert’s 21 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks puts them only one game out of the 8-seed.

In the nightcap, the Blazers beat the Lakers 108-103 to win their seventh straight and stay in the 3-seed all by themselves. But the fourth quarter made sure this game got its own mention …

A Late Night With Lillard

Portland was down 11 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter when it decided its best option was to clear out and let Damian Lillard go to work. Not a bad call. It turns out having a shot-creator and a shot-maker in a close game is like having Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball on call in the ninth inning. Lillard blitzed the Lakers for 19 of his 39 total points, including 15 straight for Portland at one point. Like a batter standing helplessly inside the box, the Lakers knew what was coming and couldn’t stop it. Lillard found every opening, and where there wasn’t one, he created the space he needed to take his shot.

The Lakers, who had a chance to get within six games of a long-shot 8-seed, imploded. But their demise doesn’t happen without Lillard lighting the fire.

Kyle Anderson Is the Greatest Showman

Jayson Tatum Is the Next Maze Runner

The Celtics beat the Bulls without Kyrie Irving, 105-89. The tank is strong in the Windy City. Speaking of which …

Bingo: NBA Lottery Edition

Ah, yes. We can now cross off “behind-the-back pass that goes into the stands” from our boards. Good job, everyone.